Netanyahu's objective right now is neither to advance negotiations with the Palestinians nor even to win an election; it's simply to ensure that he, rather than Sharon, is Likud's next candidate.That was a Time Magazine article from 2002, but it reads like today's news. Captain Bibi won't be letting up on his obsession with Moby Arik anytime soon.
Sharon had been selected as party leader simply as a caretaker following Netanyahu's 1999 drubbing at the hands of Ehud Barak. Ironically, it was right-wing defections from Netanyahu's own government that had forced that election. Eighteen months later, a crafty parliamentary trick by Barak allowed Sharon rather than the preferred Netanyahu to be the party's candidate in a new election — Netanyahu was precluded from standing under the rules governing that particular election because he was not a member of the Knesset at the time. (Barak believed his own chances were better against Sharon than against Netanyahu.) Since then, the robustly ambitious Netanyahu has kept up his campaign to reclaim what he considers his rightful place from Sharon, most recently in Monday's Central Committee vote.
Not that Netanyahu would necessarily do things that differently from Sharon if he were faced with the realities of power. An editorial in Maariv suggested he doesn't even believe that a Palestinian state can be stopped. And Netanyahu's own record in power, moreover, suggests he knows the score: Elected as a fierce opponent of the Oslo accords, he was nonetheless forced, as prime minister, to observe it — by withdrawing from Hebron, for example — while Sharon snapped at his heels from the right.
Good evening, all. We live in a state in which security incidents follow political ones, and sometimes these events become muddled together. Since yesterday I have been hearing the commentators "commotion," that of the experts, the close associates, those close to the close associates, and the journalists close to the latter. One says, "it will improve his standing in the central committee"; a second says "it will give him one more percent," "he enjoys it," "the other one enjoys it." To each his own interpretation, each person and his notions.The Speech He Never Gave
Gentlemen, I suggest we all relax. Yesterday's attack on my neighbors in Sderot and in the western Negev was extremely severe.... If we don't have quiet, neither will Gaza. All that is needed will be done. Period.
...Tomorrow's vote is not a technical one; it is an attempt to expel me, and it is an expression of no confidence in the way in which the Likud has led the country. All because of vindictiveness and boundless personal ambition.
This would be suicide that would spell the end of the Likud, and would lead it to only one place: the opposition.
Tomorrow we will have to decide which path we will choose, and what Likud we desire. We will determine whether this will be a Likud which is supported by national consensus or an extremists' Likud that is relegated to the margins. A large, influential ruling party or a small powerless opposition party, like the one I received six years ago.
"It's a cat-and-mouse game," said Gamal Eid, an Egyptian lawyer who specializes in Internet restrictions in the Arab world. "You try to use the back roads, and the regime tries to do the same."
Ayman Abdel Nour knows a thing or two about cat-and-mouse.
The Syrian government has been trying to silence him for more than a year, ever since he wrote a particularly acidic piece on ruling Baath Party officials and posted it on his website. It wasn't long before the tart-tongued economist awoke to find the site, all4syria.org, smothered by a white screen and a warning: "Forbidden."
"The government gives herself the right that she's more mature than you," an indignant Abdel Nour said on a recent morning as sunlight flooded his apartment in Damascus, the Syrian capital. "She will decide for you which site you can see and which is forbidden."
A 40-year-old gadfly and childhood friend of President Assad, Abdel Nour had been courting trouble for months. His writings call for the dismissal of officials, citing them by name and listing their shortcomings. He castigates Syrian intelligence and scoffs at the Baath Party, even though he is a member. By his count, his vitriol reaches 15,200 readers every day.
"They [government officials] are very much angry because they don't have any qualified people or intellectual people to respond or explain or defend," Abdel Nour said. "So they just stand there taking bullets, with nothing to respond. They've never had this situation before."
Abdel Nour fought the crackdown. When his website was blocked, he copied his daily bulletin and e-mailed it to every reader registered on his site. He sat down at his computer to do the same thing the next day, only to discover that his e-mail address had been blocked.
Undaunted, Abdel Nour gave himself a fresh address, and the bulletin went whizzing off. Come the next day, that address, too, had been disabled. So he created another.
The cyber-jousting went on, day after day, for a month and a half. At last, the security services gave up. "Finally," Abdel Nour said, "they surrendered because they realized they can't control it."
Keystroke by keystroke, Syria's online voices are awakening from the slumber imposed by the late President Hafez Assad, who severely restricted both the Internet and satellite dishes. Things began to loosen when his son Bashar took over in 2000. He joined the Syrian Computer Society, encouraged citizens to explore the Internet and trumpeted technology as a hallmark of the new era he promised to usher in.
Until the recent technological revolution, the Syrian government was notorious for swathing the land in a thick fog of disinformation, or no information. Until the 1990s, there was nothing but government-run television, radio and newspapers.
Bashar Assad's government has clung to some of the old habits. In April 2003, as Saddam Hussein's rule in Iraq collapsed and U.S. troops overran Baghdad, not a word was mentioned in Syria's state media.
But Syrians had seen the fall of Baghdad live on Arab satellite TV. Satellite dishes, cheap and easy to jury-rig with a tangle of chicken wire and a smuggled scrambler, have ended Arab governments' ability to keep information at bay.
The Internet has pushed even further. The satellite dish imports information, but the Internet sends ideas and experiences back out again.
"Internet is more interesting, because it gives people the chance to participate; they can say something," said Haykal, the bloggers association leader, who runs the website Damascene Blog.
Still, the Internet has come slowly to Syria. Subscription rates are out of most people's reach. Censorship is rife, and broadband services are highly restricted.
Even so, the Web is lively with Syrian bloggers — only about 40, but that's up from three at the beginning of the year. Syrians are also finding their way, anonymously, to online forums.
Some Syrians believe that may explain a speech Assad made in June at the Baath Party congress. He didn't mention the instability in Iraq, the crisis in Lebanon or the festering cold war with Israel. Instead, he issued dire warnings about the revolution in news and technology. The information influx had "overwhelmed Arabs and threatened their existence and cultural identity, which has increased the doubts and skepticism in the mind of young Arabs," he told delegates.
It was a startling argument coming from Syria's most famous Internet advocate. Technology had numbed and subtly made war against Arab society, Assad said.
"This leads in the end to the cultural, political and moral collapse of the Arab individual and his ultimate defeat even without a fight," he said. "The ultimate objective of all this is the destruction of Arab identity."
Opposition figures and bloggers were aghast.
"Will we just suddenly forget the language we are still using?" wrote a Syrian blogger who was interviewed by e-mail on condition of anonymity. "Lose our memory like if we been in an accident? Just because we saw some technology? Are we too primitive to handle the shock?"
Of course not, says prominent human rights lawyer Anwar Bounni. Arab governments may complain about the Web as a dangerous home for pornography and terrorists, but in practice, he argues, Assad dislikes the Internet because it's a potent political threat.
"They've lost hard authority, because anybody can speak about them on the Internet," said Bounni, who has defended Syrians jailed for Internet use. Assad "doesn't know what he wants to do about it. He wants to return to his father's time, when nobody could speak."
Disenchanted young women in capri pants, battle-weary human rights veterans in baggy polos, young bloggers with pouches under their eyes and unkempt manes of hair. They had come from all over Cairo to a clammy walk-up for a semi-underground seminar on Internet privacy.
The small group was gathered to learn how to evade security agents — how to send coded e-mail, use proxy servers to cover their tracks and visit banned websites. They were told that Egyptians arrested for their online activities had been traced by their Internet Protocol addresses, and that they could have foiled the government by using proxy servers, which mask identifiying information.
"A very simple proxy, even if it's not secure, you can get away with it," said Ahmed Gharbeia, a skinny, serious computer consultant, who peered at his audience over his glasses. "The government isn't that sophisticated yet."
They were urged to encrypt all of their writings and to pass on the skills they learned here — discreetly.
"We don't want to provoke the security services," said Eid, the lawyer. "We should spread the knowledge, but don't announce it publicly. Go out and teach others about encryption."
Across town a few nights later, several Egyptians huddled in a circle around microphones. They were just getting warmed up as the inky darkness of midnight draped itself over Cairo.
"Please don't smoke inside the studio; there's no ventilation," a sign on a wall begged. But everybody in the tiny studio was puffing away. Opposition newspapers littered the table like fallen leaves, the ashy air electric with defiance.
This is the radio studio of Ayman Nour, the most prominent opposition figure to stand against Hosni Mubarak in the presidential election last week. Nour's trial on corruption charges, labeled by his followers as a ploy to silence him, is scheduled to begin late this month.
The radio studio had the feel of a war room.
"There are revolutions happening in the soul of every Egyptian, and we're just waiting for the revolution to move to the street," Ayman Barakat, a husky lawyer, said into the microphone. "The time is now, not tomorrow."